Rory roars but Graeme holds his nerve for vic­tory

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - GRANT WIN­TER

“RORY, Rory, Rory ... go Rory ... Rory glory!” They yelled and they screamed and they hollered. All day long the fans were in a frenzy – from lit­tle fel­las on their dads’ shoul­ders, from young studs clutch­ing their beers, from big, fat mom­mas to creamy-skinned young ladies who’d look good on the cat­walk. The Rain­bow Na­tion did their ut­most best in the fi­nal round of the BMW South African Open at Glen­dower Golf Club yes­ter­day to pay homage to Rory McIl­roy.

And the North­ern Ir­ish­man did his best to give his all to the fans. But ul­ti­mately, the world No 2 was blown away by a Storm ... Graeme Storm that is – a player 249 places be­hind him in the world rank­ings, af­ter the never-say-die English­man snatched vic­tory over McIl­roy at the third hole of sud­den-death play af­ter the pair had gone back and forth from green to tee to green at the par-four 18th be­fore Rory fi­nally ca­pit­u­lated with a bo­gey.

Ac­tu­ally, “blown away by a Storm” is too ex­treme. In re­al­ity, the two play­ers were neck-and­neck com­ing down the stretch in a heart-stop­ping fi­nal round watched by the big­gest gallery I have seen in 40 years cov­er­ing Sun­shine Tour events.

McIl­roy started the fi­nal round three back of Storm but had reeled him in by the time they walked off the green at the 601-yard monster that is the par-five 13th. While Storm was un­able to reach the green in two here, McIl­roy smashed a 360-yard drive up the mid­dle and then hit a mar­vel­lous six-iron from 240 yards out into the heart of the green, with water lurk­ing per­ilously close on the left of the putting sur­face, and two-putted for birdie. Storm parred, and now they were level.

And when the English­man three-putted for bo­gey at the short 14th, which meant McIl­roy was now one in front, the crowds again went wild. The con­sen­sus at that stage by the “ex­perts” be­hind the ropes was that the Storm had died out and that McIl­roy would surge home to a fa­mous first vic­tory on South African soil.

But there was drama at 15 when the third mem­ber of the group, Eng­land’s Jor­dan Smith, made an ea­gle three to pull within one of McIl­roy, who at the par-three 17th found a nasty lie in a bunker and couldn’t get out on his first at­tempt. More drama. That led to a bo­gey, Storm went for the mid­dle of the green with his tee-shot and his par saw him draw level with the Ul­ster­man as the pair went to the 18th tee all square.

McIl­roy made a few too many mis­takes with his longer shots yes­ter­day, but he was typ­i­cally a wizard with put­ter in hand as he made sure of clean­ing up those tricky four- and five-foot­ers. A good golfer needs to be a good “de­tec­tive” on the greens, care­fully look­ing for all sorts of clues in terms of break and speed, the tex­ture of the grass, even the wind and how it will ef­fect the stroke.

And McIl­roy was a pretty skilled sleuth on the greens, but a way­ward drive at the third play-off hole ul­ti­mately meant that this was one case he didn’t solve.

Storm is 38 and can prob­a­bly be de­scribed as a jour­ney­man on tour rather than a su­per­star like McIl­roy. Glen­dower, though, will re­main in his mind for­ever. It was a week in which he went 54 holes with­out drop­ping a shot en route to a play­off vic­tory. Fan­tas­tic mem­o­ries.

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